#Vrede beneficiaries verification concludes in Nov

Photo: Dairyherd.com
The process of verifying the rightful beneficiaries of the headline grabbing Vrede Dairy Project will wrap up come November’s end.

OFM News reports, spokesperson for the Free State Agriculture and Rural Development Department, Zimasa Leputla, has in a scathing statement quipped the DA’s Bloemfontein High Court bid to have the 80 beneficiaries recognised and verified in three months has having come “a little too late”. OFM News’ Olebogeng Motse reports the Agriculture Department kicked off the verification process in March via a consultative session with the initial beneficiaries in Vrede.

Leputla says it was at this session which was attended by the beneficiaries and representatives of those who have died, that the department expressed its intent to have the beneficiaries listed as shareholders on the project. She says the DA is fully aware of the developments and chalked up their court bid to “political point scoring”.

The DA’s motivation behind approaching the Bloemfontein High Court in the matter, is that the beneficiaries still have not seen a single cent of the hundreds of millions of rands that have been spent on the project thus far. Over R 250 million, was invested in the project initially in 2012/13, back when it was still managed by Gupta-linked Estina. The Gupta-linked company which had no background in agriculture was selected as Indian based dairy company, Paras’ partner on the project via a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU). Since the Free State Development Coorporation (FDC) – the second respondent in the DA’s application – took the project over in late 2014, a further R 20 million per annum continues to be pumped into the project. DA leader, Roy Jankielsohn questions why the project continues to exist, when the selected beneficiaries are still yet to receive a cent.

“The blatant looting in their name has to cease and the registered beneficiaries should be incorporated into the project. The DA met with a group of these beneficiaries on 9 September 2020 on the farm and received their blessing to proceed with the legal proceedings on their behalf” says Jankielsohn.

Earlier in the year, the Zondo Commission heard how Estina’s bank account had just over R16, days before the provincial government deposited the first R30 million into its account. Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has announced that her report into the project will be released come October’s end.  The public is calling for the politicians behind the project to be held accountable – notably the former Agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane and Free State Premier, Ace Magashule.

In December 2018, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) dropped charges against all the accused in the Vrede Dairy criminal case. NPA Spokesperson in the Free State Phaladi Shuping said at the time that this is because they were unable to obtain crucial information from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India on the case. The accused, former Free State Agriculture head Peter Thabethe; General Manager for District Services at the Free State Agriculture Department, Takisi Masiteng; former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the Free State Agriculture Department Sylvia Dlamini; Gupta affiliates and associates, Ronica Raghavan; Nazeem Howa;  Ashu Chawla; and Varun Gupta were let off the hook.

However in 2020, Dlamini and Thabethe found themselves again behind bars alongside, Lerato Mngomezulu, Disebo Masiteng, Mokemane Ndumo, Mahlomola Mofokeng, and Malikomo Mohapi for fraud, corruption and money laundering in a separate matter. The latter individual is the sole director of Rekgonne Community Projects – a company which entered into an agreement with the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in 2014 to implement all projects on behalf of the department for a period of two years. Its alleged money intended for the department’s projects was unlawfully paid into Rekgonne’s business accounts and the bank accounts of the accused.